ChicagoDowntown / Loop

Presidential Towers, 555 W Madison, West Loop

by Joe Zekas on 6/6/11

In the mid-1980s, Chicagoans on their daily commute into the Loop were amazed at how quickly four new skyscrapers were rising out of the ground. When they were completed in 1986, the four Presidential Towers (“PT”) high-rises (of six originally planned) became and remain the tallest buildings west of the river in Chicago.


When construction began on PT, Chicago’s Near West Side was a picture-book of urban blight and decay. Madison Street was Skid Row and the area seemed a sea of parking lots and mostly derelict loft buildings. Presidential Towers ignited the area’s transformation into the neighborhood we now know as the West Loop. Some credit Oprah Winfrey for the West Loop’s growth, but it would be years before her Harpo Studios arrived on the scene.

The development of PT was facilitated by controversial tax breaks, including the issuance of tax-exempt bonds, engineered by Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The project experienced financial difficulties in the 90s, was rescued from foreclosure by Pritzker family interests, and acquired by the current owners in 2007. “For many years,” according to Crain’s Chicago Real Estate Daily, “the property’s four 49-story towers stood as symbols of political clout and business failure.”

PT’s colorful past is unlikely to matter to renters drawn to the project by its close-in location, great views and extensive on-site amenities.

The apartments

Presidential Towers is one of the largest apartment complexes in the Chicago area. Its four 49-story towers, designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, encompass 2,346 apartments, an array of commercial shops and extensive on-site amenities and services.


As of late September 2013 studio rents began at $1,355 a month for 12-month leases, convertibles at $1, one-bedrooms at $1,520 and two-bedrooms at $2,635.

You can see floor plans and check current rent levels and availabilities online.

More than 1,400 of the property’s 2,346 apartments have been renovated, and the rest are scheduled for renovation. Changes include the replacement of carpeting with hardwood-like flooring in living areas, updated kitchens and baths, and opening kitchens to the living areas in some floor plans.

The original floor plans were fairly spacious and included closet space that may make renters in newer buildings envious. Take a close look, for example, at the closets on both sides of the entry hall in the studio unit pictured above.

None of the units have balconies or private outdoor space.

Central heat and air-conditioning are included in the rent. Digital cable, HDTV and high-speed Internet access are available at additional cost. Free Wi-Fi is available in a number of on-site public areas.

Views. The four towers are staggered on the site in a way that maximizes the views from every apartment. The site plan and angled bay windows result in many of the apartments enjoying outstanding views of Chicago’s skyline.

Amenities, services, policies

PT’s size enables it to offer an extensive array of on-site amenities and services.

A large landscaped sundeck was recently created in space that had previously been unused.

Interior concourses and individual building lobbies have been transformed. Different designers were chosen to create a unique look for each of the four tower lobbies.

A partial list of amenities includes 24-hour door staff, on-site management and maintenance, full-time concierge service, guest suites, on-site restaurants, dry-cleaning and valet package service, bike and personal storage areas, a “Cyber Center” and lounge, a barbecue and picnic area, and a colorfully-named laundry – the “24-hour Card-based Clothes-Care Center.”

A 28,000 square foot Walmart Neighborhood Market and a 52,000 square foot Fitness Formula Club have opened at Presidential Towers, and additional changes are underway in the retail space. Walmart delivers to PT residents and maintains extended hours for residents only.

Cats and dogs are OK, subject to breed restrictions.

On-site garage parking is available and parking is also readily available in nearby surface lots.

Habitat Corporate Suites offers daily, weekly and longer-term furnished studio, convertible, 1- and 2-bedroom rentals at PT. Some apartments include in-unit washers and dryers. The company has a 24-hour service desk and full-time housekeeping staff on-site.

Presidential Towers is managed by Waterton Residential, which maintains an on-site office. An on-site leasing office is open daily from 9 to 6, Saturday from 10 to 5, and Sunday from 11 to 5. The complex has on-site maintenance and 24/7 door staff.

Location

You can learn more about the neighborhood at YoChicago’s Near West Rental Guide, see 100s of photos at our West Loop Flickr album, and find video at our YouTube playlist.

PT has a Walk Score of 92 – Walker’s Paradise – that perhaps understates its walkability for residents who work in the Loop, reverse-commute by train from nearby Union and Ogilvie stations, attach a high value to expressway proximity or meet many of their dining and shopping needs without leaving the complex. That said, there’s no shortage of dining and shopping options within a few blocks.

Shopping. Walmart is on-site. Full-service Dominick’s (perhaps slated to close) and Mariano’s supermarkets are 3 blocks west, and Jewel is a few blocks north. The year-round indoor Chicago French Market is a 2-minute walk. Whole Foods, Target, Home Depot and other big-box stores along Roosevelt Road are a 5-minute drive.

Heritage Green Park, a tranquil oasis and dog-walker’s destination, is almost across the street from PT. Old St Patrick’s Church, a Chicago landmark and home to what’s billed as the world’s largest block party, is within a block.

Transportation. PT is a short distance from Metra’s Union and Ogilvie stations and Loop CTA stations. Expressway ramps two blocks west provide quick access to the Kennedy, Dan Ryan and Eisenhower Expressways. There’s frequent bus service along Madison St, and cabs are always plentiful.

Zip cars and a rental car office are available on-site.

Other West Loop apartments

To view more downtown and West Loop options, check out YoChicago’s comprehensive at-a-glance apartment list and map.

Pats and pans

As you’d expect, any complex of this size has its fans and its foes, and aspects of living here that some might pan turn others into fans. You’ll find 100s of reviews of Presidential Towers at Yelp and ApartmentRatings.

Share your take on Presidential Towers

If you’ve lived at or visited PT, add your thoughts in a comment. Comments are moderated, and commercial messages are not allowed.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

ed June 6, 2011 at 7:27 AM

Heat and air are not included in the rent. Residents receive a separate bill for heat/air, gas, water, sewer, trash each month. It’s one of those communal bills, divided based on the square footage of the apartment.

2,652 apartments according to leasing agents last week, not 2,346.

Each of the four towers has its own massive laundry room. There is not a central colorfully-named laundry room.

“of six originally planned”: [citation needed], since to continue the line of Presidential Towers in either direction would mean demolishing Ogilvie Transportation Center, or Old Saint Patrick’s Church, neither of which are likely. Unless it was supposed to assume a boomerang shape and fill up that last surface parking lot before the highway.

TV service is provided by RCN. Internet options are RCN, AT&T, or Clear.

Not all studios have dishwashers, but those that don’t are at least cheaper than those that do.

Regardless of what Old Saint Pat’s wants people to think, its drunken bash is not the “world’s largest block party.” It’s not even close. It’s not even the biggest church block party in the Midwest. That honor goes to the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis, which is almost double the size of Saint Pat’s event.

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Joe Zekas August 31, 2014 at 1:54 PM

I think you misheard the leasing agents. PT has 2,346 apartments.

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nwzimmer June 6, 2011 at 8:35 PM

I lived at ‘PT’ quite a while back, for four months; in fact it was the very first placed I ever lived in Chicago when I first transfered here after college; my corporate relo package paid my rent, and I had a furnished unit.

This was back in 2004, and it was pretty bad, but based on the Yelp reviews it sounds like it’s gotten far, far worse. (And I tend to think all the negative reviews sound legit; the comments are pretty objective that would be easy to refute if they weren’t true, as opposed to more subjective comments). I actually gave feedback to the corporate relo provider, and I heard about a year later that they stopped recommending PT.

And WOW, that whole thing about having to sign-in your guests with their photo id every time they visit, even if you’re with them, sounds SHADY AS H*LL. That wasn’t in place when I was there, but if it was I think I would have moved out immediately. I realize that policy is probably in place in reaction to something, but that only underscores the shadiness. I actually wonder if that’s even legal, to prevent you from bringing in to your own residence that you’re leasing… (if, for example, your guest doesn’t have their ID on them)

So Joe, I think the your comment:

“As you’d expect, any complex of this size has its fans and its foes, and aspects of living here that some might pan turn others into fans.”

should be more of a huge disclaimer, warning about this place. This is another example of where the rent they are asking is far higher than the value of the place; whereas if the rent was absolutely dirt-cheap, at least that would partially make up for the huge shortcomings, but for the rental rates they are quoting, someone can actually get a decent apartment somewhere else.

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Joe Zekas June 6, 2011 at 9:38 PM

nwzimmer,

I’ve been in many buildings in Chicago and around the country where I’ve had to sign in with a photo ID, even when accompaneid by someone who worked there. It’s obnoxious, but it’s a common practice in security-conscious buildings.

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nwzimmer June 6, 2011 at 10:22 PM

“even when accompaneid by someone who **worked** there” (my emphasis added)

…which sounds like you’re talking about an office building that is a workplace, not a residential building.

Regardless… it just strikes me as extremely shady.

And it really doesn’t sound like the people who moved in there were aware of this policy BEFORE they signed a lease; if they were aware of it before they signed the lease, they wouldn’t have as much room to complain (and I’m assuming PT would lose a lot of potential tenants as a result).

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ed June 7, 2011 at 11:21 AM

Joe’s right. This is not uncommon. This has been the case in the last three buildings I lived in (two in Chicago, one out west), and I’ve visited people in other cities (mostly east coast) where this is also the case.

My impression is that it stems from the size of the buildings. PT, for example, has more people living in it than most Midwestern towns. Keeping track of who’s going in is a good method of control and a crime deterrent, since you can only have so many doorstaff. The alternative is to have security patrols wandering the corridors like prison guards. I don’t think that would make the residents happy.

If you don’t mind just anyone wandering around the place you live, then move into a two-flat. Tower living is not for you.

If you’re the sort of person who feels offended by having your guests provide ID, then I probably don’t want you as a neighbor.

As for all the PT complaints on Yelp, the majority of them were posted before the renovation project was begun by the new owners, or seem to be posted by very young people for whom Presidential Towers is their first experience in urban living. I saw nothing on Yelp that was unusual for any large city apartment complex. In fact, I’ve experienced a lot worse than what I saw posted there.

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Joe Zekas June 7, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Any building that rents to students is going to have occupancy problems if they don’t keep track of “guests.”

Guests too quickly become permanent residents, and unofficial sublessees. The entire population of apartments can double or treble or completely turn over without a landlord’s knowledge unless some controls are in place.

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nwzimmer June 7, 2011 at 1:31 PM

“If you’re the sort of person who feels offended by having your guests provide ID, then I probably don’t want you as a neighbor.”

hmm, that’s sounds like a very perplexing comment to me.

First, I wouldn’t be ‘offended’; I would be very embarrassed that I lived there;

If I was visiting someone else who lived there, the impression I would get upon entering a place like this would be NOT be “wow this place is so safe and secure”, it would be: that the place has such major problems with tenants, and the main demographic that they rent to is so troublesome and low-class that they HAVE to do this.

(and that’s aside from the basic inconvenience of having to pull out my id, show it, have them record information, in addition to possibly waiting in a line to do this; i hate lines!)

Really what that policy is saying is that it’s not enough for the tenant to vouch for their own guest, and that they don’t trust the very people that live there, at all.

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Joe Zekas June 7, 2011 at 2:16 PM

I don’t think you have much chance of being hired as head of security at PT – or any other large complex in Chicago, for that matter.

At one condo building in Chicago a broker known to the doorman and I both had to surrender our drivers licenses before she was given the keys to her seller’s unit.

These buildings have to deal with issues we can only imagine, and they have to adopt policies that are responsive to those issues. Real world, their options are limited.

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David June 8, 2011 at 9:36 AM

All of the high-class gated communities I know make you show your ID and check in if you’re a guest. It’s not a high vs. low class thing. It’s for security.

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nwzimmer June 7, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Working in a security role isn’t remotely close to my profession, so I’m not worried about not getting hired as head of security at PT. ;)

Your example of being given the keys to someones elses unit sounds like a totally different scenario, and sounds reasonable.

I have been to MANY residential high-rises in Chicago over the years (both rental and condo), and have NEVER been required to show an ID to enter.

Even when the tenant is upstairs, at home, and the doorman calls up to get permission, I wasn’t, and definitely not ever when the tenant was actually with me.

I think it’s fair to say it’s not the norm that a guest would be required to show an ID, especially when accompanied by the tenant that lives there.

Given this, if they were being honest, the PT leasing guys would make this abundantly clear, to a potential tenant BEFORE they sign a lease; specifically spell out that their guests will not be able to enter the tenants own residence unless they have a photo ID on them.

Somehow I get the feeling that they do not, and would not want to…

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toby June 9, 2011 at 1:14 AM

I agree, having to present an ID to enter a residential building is a bit over the top and I have never experienced this myself. An office building, yes. Joe’s scenario of checking out keys to look at a unit, yes. But to visit a tenant (while being escorted by the tenant) of the building, no. On a side note, I live near by and walk past this place when taking the dog out. The exterior proximity of the building ALWAYS smells like curry. If its smells like that outside, one can only imagine what the hallways or even your unit might smell like!

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David June 9, 2011 at 3:40 PM

I’ve noticed that strange smell when walking past it on Madison. It’s vaguely curry-like, but less appealing than most curries I’ve smelled. It’s definitely not coming from the Potbelly’s as they have their own smell. I had a coworker who lived in PT, but unfortunately she doesn’t work here anymore so I can’t ask what it smells like inside.

That smelly exhaust area does provide some nice heat on the sidewalk during winter, though! I always appreciate that on my way to the Loop from the West Loop.

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